When the Lessie Bates Davis Continuum of Life Care Center's food pantry opened 15 years ago, it served about 3,000 people a month with supplemental food.
Then, it was just serving the needy from East St. Louis and Washington Park.
"But our executive director (William Kreeb) realized we had a bigger problem than just in this city," said Christopher Coleman, director of the food pantry. "We opened the pantry up to the county in the summer of 2009 and we solicited more agencies so we could provide food security to more individuals in our county."
Right after the pantry opened to the hungry in St. Clair County, the number of people seeking food rose to about 6,000.
Today, the food pantry feeds an average of about 16,000 people per month, according to Coleman. The hungry come not only from East St. Louis, but from all over the county, he said.
"The number of individuals we have been serving has gone through the roof," Coleman said. "However, the amount of food we have to give has been cut by two-thirds."
According to figures from the United Way of Greater St. Louis, 36 percent of people in the metro St. Louis region, which includes the metro-east, don't know where their next meal is coming from, and 172,660 children in the same service area do not have access to safe or adequate food.
Most of the organization's food comes from the St. Louis Area Food Bank, which also depends on donations, both monetary and food donations, to keep area pantries stocked. The Food Bank also receives some funding from the United Way of Greater St. Louis.
Typically, the East St. Louis food pantry receives around 30,000 pounds of food.
It didn't get a food donation delivery from the Food Bank in October and just received its November food delivery which amounted to 7,800 pounds.
"What we've done is reduce the amount of service days, the number of times a person can come to the food pantry in a month," Coleman said. "Due to the reduction in our food subsidy, we've had to reduce the number of times a person can get food from twice a month to once a month."
On top of the $1.6 million still owed to it by the state, the Lessie Bates Davis food pantry is having to make cuts and hoping individuals will make donations.
The Lessie Bates Davis organization receives some funding from the United Way of Greater St. Louis, which is in the middle of its annual fundraiser. The theme of the fundraiser for the United Way is Food (In)Security.
Thirty-seven food pantries in the St. Louis metro region are supported by funds from the United Way, including Lessie Bates Davis and 11 others in the metro-east. Those organizations received a portion of the $9.5 million distributed by the United Way last to agencies that provide services to the needy in the region.
"We can't say enough about the support we've gotten from the United Way, the St. Louis Food Bank and Operation Food Search, without their support, we would not have been able to do what we have been able to do," said Vera Jones, development director with the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House in East St. Louis. "We've sent out letters to all the major grocers asking for pallets of soup or something similar so we can restock our shelves and feed people. We do get some donations from individuals, but donations from last year are reduced. We're seeing about one-third less than last year."
The Lessie Bates Davis organization has an annual budget of around $8 million, Jones said.
The food pantry has a general idea of how many people the food the provide feeds, but it can be difficult to get an exact figure.
"We get people from single-parent households, maybe seniors who are living in a home with another family who aren't just picking up for themselves, they are picking up for the entire family to make sure the kids are being fed," Jones said. "They want to make sure their loved ones are taken care of."
"We know we're not alone," Jones said. "There are a lot of agencies and organizations facing the same issues we are. I can only speak for here, but we are really going to have to be creative if we don't see some funds come in soon. We're going in to winter time when we know it's a lot rougher for people to make it, so we are just holding on and doing all we can to try to make a difference."
The organization always welcomes and accepts donations of nonperishable food items, personal hygiene items and monetary donations.
"We'll be glad to pick up any donations, too," Coleman added. "We'll take anything that someone feels a needy person can use."
For more information about making a donation, contact Coleman or Tenille Traylor at 271-2522 or drop the donation off at 1274 N. 37th St. in East St. Louis.
To make a donation to the United Way of Greater St. Louis, visit HelpingPeople.org. The organization's campaign goal this year is to raise $72 million.
Contact reporter Jennifer A. Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2667.